Perfect Harmony | An Interview With No Swoon

The incongruent backstories of Tasha Abbott and Zack Nestel-Patt have constructed their union of the musical project No Swoon almost flawlessly. Abbott was engrossed in musical theater while being into bands such as Bauhaus and The Cure. Her musical taste eventually shifted towards finding inspiration from singer-songwriters such as Joan Baez. As for Nestel-Patt, his years as a youth immersed in jazz and classical music as an aspiring professional upright bass player within the Boston area. 

When you listen to No Swoon, it’s irrefutable to distinguish the duo’s distinctive musical traits.

Sequestered within the western vicinity of Massachusetts during the pandemic, Abbott and Nestel-Patt crafted their sophomore album Take Your Time, which is arguably considered by many to be one of the best albums this year. Portraying a lasting strength and a defining self-assuredness within the tracks, the duo skillfully offers appealing and ambiguous tracks. Themes of mistakes and regrets make way to maturing as a human, and exploring feelings makes way towards understanding and acceptance. In the band’s bio for Take Your Time, Abbott says, “We are so hard on ourselves for decisions we made years ago. I have plenty of regrets, but I also see it as a process, and it’s ok that I didn’t realize the hopes and dreams of 20-year-old me. What did she know anyways?”  

The album’s first single, “Again,” is a sludgy, slow-motion jam immersed in heavy bass. “Beside” expands Abbott and Nestel-Patt into ethereal surroundings with intertwining keyboards chaotic guitars. Abbott’s inobtrusive vocals are unconstrained, bearing witness to a singer that’s in peak form. 

You recently just performed at SXSW. What was it like to get out and start performing live again in front of an audience?

It was a huge relief. Not just for the fun of being back and playing shows, seeing friends, etc., but also because it felt like we could really get back to being a band. The past few years have been mostly just spinning wheels and postponing things. It really feels amazing to get back to feeling like there is a music scene and that we are a band.

Having a pretty diverse background, what was the driving force for you to start playing music?

We both were pushed to music from an early age. It’s hard for either of us to point to a concrete reason we got into it. There must have been something that grabbed us early, but as we both grew up, I think music answered something we were both looking for: catharsis, escape, challenge, and calm. Our relationship with music is constantly changing, but it’s good always to come back to those early interactions with music and remind ourselves what it gave us back then.

What could you recall was the moment when you two discovered that No Swoon was going to happen?

The band didn’t start as a band. We had just gotten some new instruments, Zack, a synthesizer, me, an electric guitar, and some pedals. At first, it was just us having fun and experimenting with these new toys. We were in California at that time and had to drive back to NYC. We had enough friends across the country to make it a very relaxed vacation/tour. We still weren’t very serious about it being a “band when we landed in NYC.” But we slowly got asked to play more and more shows and got asked to play with more bands. No Swoon ‘happening’ is pretty far from our minds even now. Obviously, we would love to quit our jobs and play big venues. But we try as hard as we can to limit how much we think about that – to greater or lesser success. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of the industry and “making” it. 

What has the move to Los Angeles done for you two? Do you feel that this project wouldn’t be as strong as if you two were apart?

LA is great. It was definitely weird to move to a city mid pandemic. It was like a ghost town for a bunch of our time here, but we already had friends here. Jon, who played drums on our record, lives in the same neighborhood. We are close to that, so that is super exciting! There wasn’t much of a shock of moving to a brand new city, but we are looking forward to it being a normal version of LA and being fully comfortable going to shows, etc.

There are so many amazing bands in LA and it’s great to meet, play, and hang with them. This band would be different if we weren’t in the same city. For better or worse, the band takes up a lot of our conversational bandwidth. We talk through a lot of decisions and things outside of scheduled band time. It’s hard to imagine it working as smoothly if we weren’t together. Also, so much of a band is finding a scene and being able to plug into cool things happening where you live.

When you moved to NYC, what did you discover musically within yourself?

That whole time was a pretty drastic time of learning and discovery for us. Before our move to NYC in 2016, I played folk music and Zack played jazz and experimental music. It was exciting to be on this journey together, listening to music and talking about what was going on. It felt like a whole new world opened up to us.

After releasing a handful of impeccable singles and your debut LP, was there any pressure on yourselves once Take Your Time started getting worked on?

This new album came together really because we had a chunk of time we were able to work on it. We hadn’t planned to make a record and only had a few sketches of things before the pandemic hit. We were floating around different family homes and sublets, and there was a three-month period where we had a house to ourselves. We figured we might as well see how far we could go in making a record and just kind of dove in. 

We didn’t know when we would be able to access a studio to record or have the time and space to write in the future. The pressure came from that unknown. If we didn’t do it then, who knew when we’d be able to record anything. Looking back, it wasn’t the best process to make a record, but we ended up with something we are proud of so that counts for a lot.

How was the recording of Take You Time affected while being isolated during the pandemic? Did you find this time to be in some way to be beneficial?

It’s hard to look back on that time and see it as beneficial. We felt a ton of momentum in March 2020. I think what we managed to do is make the best out of a pretty shitty situation. As we said above, we ended up with a record that we are proud of, so that is great. 

The lyrics for Take Your Time were some of the most personable that you wrote as a collective. Did you feel at any point that you were possibly sharing too much of yourself?

We never want to beat the listener over the head with our lyrics. Our idea is to build a world and invite them into what we feel. We hope people can take different things out of listening and get what they need out of the songs. But part of that means exposing those feelings and thoughts so others can find them and sit with them.

What else did you learn about yourself during the pandemic?

Maybe not learned, but I was reminded of how massively adaptable humans are. Every day felt like a new challenge. We moved like five times during the pandemic! And we just had to roll with it and make the best of it. That isn’t to say we didn’t struggle. Depression is real and the pandemic hit us hard, especially after feeling like all our momentum from 2020 was lost. 

Tasha did learn how to bake French pastries, so that was pretty great.

My favorite track on the album is the single “Beside,” primarily due to merging your backgrounds. Did you feel that was important in putting together Take Your Time?

Thank you! We don’t think directly about our backgrounds when we write music, but we can always look back and see them there.

What would you say are your favorite tracks on the new album and why?

My (Zack) favorite track is ‘Then Again.’ I’m proud of how the production ended up on it, and the lyrics always hit me hard when I hear them.

My (Tasha) favorite track is “Beside.” It’s so simple, but I love the way it builds. “Then Again” is also one of my favorites; that was a tough one, emotionally, for me to write – probably the rawest and most personal of the entire album.

You enlisted a group of musicians and producers to flush out some parts of the new album. How pivotal were these individuals in creating such a fantastic effort?

Our goal with the three months we had to make this record was to see how far we could take it on our own. We have never had the chance to work with a producer from the start of a record and we are not producers, so I think we always knew bringing people in later on would have to happen. But we also have very strong opinions about how things should sound and be, so we are happy to spend time in the sandbox figuring it out on our own. 

Once we got the bulk of the recording and production done, we reflected that some songs still needed help getting to the finish line. Also, we needed help digging and organizing the huge amount of drum and percussion overdubs that Jon Smith recorded! Like everyone we work with, we just reached out to people who make cool stuff to see if they would be interested in working on our thing. We are always amazed that they say yes! This record would not have happened without the group of people that contributed to it: Jon Smith, Jake Aron, Charlie Van Kirk, Peter Wagner, and Chis Coady.

Photo Courtesy: Lucy Sandler